Mikel Bastida, Anarene

JTF (just the facts): Co-published in 2023 by Editorial RM (here) and Comunidad de Madrid (here). Hardcover (23 x 28.8 cm), 116 pages, with 55 color photographs. Includes an essay by Eduardo Momeñe and texts by the artist. Design by Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: The work of the Spanish photographer Mikel Bastida is shaped by his interest in cinema and its history (he also works as a professor of film history), and his first photobook titled Anarene is a result of an eight-year photographic investigation of the forgotten stories, people, and places of Hollywood. Over these years, Bastida traveled to places where classic Hollywood movies were filmed, to find fragments the cinema left behind. Last year, his series won Fotolibro <40, an annual competition managed by the Government of the community of Madrid, and aimed to support (and publish) the work of Spanish artists under 40 years old.

The title of Bastida’s photobook refers to a now abandoned place in Texas, where the Peter Bogdanovich film The Last Picture Show (from 1971, which was adapted from the novel by Larry McMurtry) takes place. The town was founded in 1908 by Charles E. Graham, who named the place after his wife Annie Lawrene. Bogdanovich’s film received two Oscars and is considered a Hollywood classic that speaks to the roots of American identity. Today Anarene is a ghost town, gloomy and remote, essentially wiped off the map back in the 1950s; much of the collective memory of the town is pure fiction. 

Anarene is a medium size hardcover book. The photograph placed on the cover depicts an extended arm over an open book; we don’t see the person’s face but the words (maybe a tattoo) over his hand read “take the deal” in all caps. It is both intriguing and puzzling. The title and the name of the artist are placed in gold on the spine. Inside, most of the photographs are the same size and usually just one per spread. There are no captions or page numbers, but Bastida’s writing, placed throughout the book on a lighter paper, guides the visual narrative. The light blue endpapers elegantly complement the photographs. 

There is no obvious linear narrative here. The visual flow of the book brings together timeless portraits, uninhabited landscapes, and close-up shots of the remains of notable scenery. Bastida traveled to the town where the Spanish-style building used as the church in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 was located, visited the Amargosa Hotel which was used in Lost Highway, and went to Terlingua in search of The Devil’s Graveyard, the place where the story of Paris, Texas started. In these places, Bastida is interested in the people who have remained (some of them appeared in the films as extras) and how their lives are shaped by fictional and popular narratives.

The book opens with a sunset, shot by the road as the sun sets over a cornfield, with the pink sky in the background and a blurry branch in the top right corner of the frame. It is followed by a photograph of an old white car left on the road, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, with the dark blue sky and the light slightly emanating from the road creating a cinematic atmosphere. In his visual investigation, Bastida is “searching for what the stories have left behind”.

A couple of pages later there is a striking portrait, of a bearded man in a shiny red shirt and a thick black tie; the sitter is a preacher Bastida met during his trip. He attended the service and took this portrait afterward. Many movies were shot in this church, and each movie added an element to make the church what it is today. At some point, notes Bastida, “the building has turned into what cinema has made of it”.

Throughout the book, the shots of places such as the skyline of a town at sunset, the parking lot in front of the Stardust Motel on a snowy morning, and the remains of a caravan are intertwined with portraits of the various people Bastida encountered. In one image, a man named Johnny is photographed seated in the Fun Cafe next to a torn map; he used to be a metal worker and he drives a taxi. In another, a young girl is deep in her thoughts as she sits on a ledge in the water (perhaps in a pool or a fountain); her hair is dyed red and she wears a t-shirt. These are the real people who live in a place that no longer belongs to them, and Bastida’s portraits capture their humanity.

In the end, Anarene is an unpretentious and subtly elegant publication, enlivened by thoughtful sequencing and editing. It is a story of observation and perception, of looking at the obvious and seeing something more. It is also a poetic photobook. After all the road trips, searching for stories and meeting people, Bastida says that the fictional United States seems more interesting than the reality. 

Collector’s POV: Mikel Bastida does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. Since he does not appear to have an artist website or Instagram page, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the book publisher, linked in the sidebar.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2024 by Skinnerboox (here). Softcover with Swiss binding, 24 x 28 cm, 108 pages, with 40 black-and-white reproductions and 14 contact sheet pages. Includes ... Read on.

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